5 Questions With…
Vicki E. Buckley, M.B.A. NIAAA Executive Officer/Associate Director for Administration, and Deputy Ethics Coordinator
You’re known for “wearing many hats” at NIAAA—How would you characterize the nature of your various roles?
Yes, I do wear quite a few hats, but that is one of the things that I love most about my job. Each business area is critical to the success of our mission. In my role, I am able to identify opportunities for improvements and efficient process implementation that meet at the intersection of regulations and policy and our organizational needs. This gives me the opportunity to develop implementation strategies to minimize the administrative burden of regulations on our staff. Ethics, information technology, human resources, budget, administrative policy, and travel—to name just a few—all support our research on alcohol use disorder, or AUD. I strive to create and maintain an environment where that role is truly supportive and provides a framework of integrity and expert advice for our staff.
Can you share more about your background and how you’ve been able to adapt and evolve into bridging NIAAA’s scientific and administrative sides?
I have worked for the federal government for almost 30 years and have been at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] for 21 years. I spent my early years working as a laboratory technician for the Department of Defense and pursuing a degree in chemistry. Once I began working for NIH in the National Institute of Mental Health intramural program, I changed directions to obtain an undergraduate degree in healthcare management and a master’s in business administration from Mount St. Mary’s University. Each of my experiences helped to shape my approach to my current role at NIAAA and now gives me insight into the different needs of staff throughout our organization.
We see many challenges associated with COVID-19—How has NIAAA successfully managed operations during the pandemic?
I am truly proud of NIAAA and the amazing job that everyone has done to make this unprecedented transition to a virtual work environment during the pandemic. It has been difficult, to say the least, but we started early to get staff trained and set up with accounts and systems—for example, operating system updates for security and compatibility, VPN accounts, approved telework agreements, and updated passwords—in the weeks preceding the transition, and that proactive approach was key to success. We have a team who is managing PPE [personal protective equipment] and safety awareness and training, as well as monitoring schedules and floor plans to manage occupant density at our locations.
Each of these efforts has allowed for a successful partial return of our intramural program. The return was critical to continue research within our basic and clinical programs. Our staff have selflessly volunteered to assist NIH with COVID-19 testing, as well as with the efforts needed to manage supplies, signage, and cleaning protocols, which allowed for the safe partial intramural return. In addition, our extramural staff have been able to maintain and thrive in our virtual environment and have taken on significant efforts related to COVID-19 research.
What are some of the ways in which NIAAA continues to promote diversity in the workplace and prepare the scientific workforce for the future?
Diversity and inclusion are top priorities for NIAAA, and we will continue to strive for improvements in every aspect of the organization. We have recently created a new committee composed of members with varying experience and background to broadly represent the organization. The committee will be identifying barriers and recommending new and innovative solutions to improve efforts. The goal is to strengthen our culture to ensure that those values are woven into every aspect of our mission, from scientific research to staffing within the Institute.
Outside of work, what are some of your favorite activities?
In addition to spending time with my family and friends, I enjoy pursuing three great loves: dogs, amateur photography, and the outdoors. Luckily, these things typically go hand in hand, and I am happiest when I am outside enjoying nature. Over the years, that has involved many different adventures, including surfing, scuba diving, hiking, travel, boating, paddleboarding, cycling, and now camping. During the early weeks of the pandemic, we purchased a small travel trailer and have been spending every possible moment exploring, camping, and hiking in some of our beautiful Maryland state parks, while still being able to physically distance and stay safe. This has allowed us to maintain our balance during the challenges that we have all faced during the pandemic. Our dog also loves to hike, so we get to combine time spent with her with nature and hiking—and we get lots of opportunities for photography along the way!